2nd Sunday in Advent
December 5, 2010
Matthew 3: 1-12
THE CANDLES OF ADVENT: The Candle Peace
You can buy peace at Pier One! (It’s a Christmas plaque which spells “PEACE” with little sprays of pine needles and snow on it). You can probably find it at Walmart, too. I was reading an article in the paper the other day which talked about the collectible Christmas logo bags from fancy stores. Imprinted on the side were huge graphics which spelled out PEACE, LOVE, JOY. It would be easy to dismiss this as cheap sentimentality, as if peace and love and joy were something that we could purchase if we only knew the right retailer.
There is a genuine longing in our hearts and our world for peace, but peace is hard. In the same measure that we long for peace, we seem to be able to destroy it with our suspicions of others motives, our talking behind people’s backs, our envy of what other people have. What is true among individuals is true of nations. Past abuses, territorial claims, valuable mineral and natural resources are among the many reasons why nations go to war, blow people up, murder, rape, brutally destruction.There never has been a time in my lifetime where people were not being killed for one of the above reasons. Sometimes it’s on foreign soil, sometimes it is in our own cities.
Religion does not protect us from wars and destruction. Differences in belief among faithful people are as good an excuse to torture and kill as any fight over oil or water or boundaries.The old story among Lutherans in this country goes, that if you didn’t like the way the church you went to did things, you’d gather up those who agreed with your complaint and start a new branch. We’ve seen the results of that thinking happen over the last year within our own ELCA.
Where to find real peace; that is the question.
Listen to Romans 15 a reading from this morning: May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope the by power of the Holy Spirit.
Isaiah 11, another reading from this morning’s lectionary speaks of the time when even a toddler can play in the den of poisonous snakes, because the natural urge to kill to eat will be stilled and predator and prey will be at peace with each other.
Listen to Ephesians 4: As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Listen to Jesus in Matthew 5: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God
And in John 14: All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
My peace. What is that? The Hebrew word “Shalom,” what Jesus probably used, often translated as peace means much more than lack of conflict. It means wholeness, a condition of being well, healed, at peace. That is not something this world can give. It is something that comes from healing of the hearts of people. Our urge to pounce upon a misspoken word with anger and to carry a tale about our grievance about someone to an outsider is as damaging as an uprising against a government or an incursion into another’s country.
Martin Luther describes the human heart as turning in on itself. We see the world in terms of what I like, what I want, what’s good for me. If that is the basis upon which we live, our relationships will be chaos, our place in the world always under threat, our anger and disappointment simmering right below our skin.
But that is not the world that God imagines. We are woven by God’s love into a world of beauty, of relationship, of peace with God and others. But our hearts turn away, into our own concerns. Rather than loving God first and others next, we see only our own needs and our own desires. We bump into the needs and desires of everyone else, and everything falls apart.
Thank God, we are forgiven. Through the intervention of God in our world, through the life and death and resurrection of God’s only and unique Son, Jesus, we are redeemed. So, you see, it’s not about us, it’s about what God in Christ has done for us. Jesus was willing to die to change our slavery to ourselves, and give us the freedom to live for God and for each other. Now we are able to live out of the Spirit which Jesus has left behind to comfort and teach us. What then will be our witness to a world which knows no peace?
Listen to Galatians 5: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against these there is no law.
These are not pick-and-choose gifts, they come together as a cluster.
And listen to Philippians 4: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The Philippians text sounds almost conditional to me: when you have the peace of God to guard your hearts, you will rejoice and be gentle and pray with thanksgiving.
Make no mistake, peace is hard. It goes against everything that is natural to our sinful, inward-curving hearts. But it is the promise we are meant to live in a world which does not know God’s peace.But at the heart of it all, it is not what we do, it is what has been done for us which leads us, heals us, makes peace possible. We are called to be peacemakers. It is how we care for each other, speak to each other, love each other when we are the most deeply divided that is our witness to the peace which is Christ’s gift to us. May the way we treat each other be our witness that the peace of God is living and active, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
And now, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may overflow in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.